WASHINGTON — A new Iran sanctions bill would require congressional review of any deal with Tehran, while hitting the Islamic republic with stiffer economic penalties should talks fail.
Importantly, the legislation is backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the chamber's No. 3 Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York. McConnell controls the Senate agenda, and ultimately will make the call on bringing any new Iran sanctions bill to the floor for debate and votes.
Crafted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Mark, R-Ill., the measure is backed by a nearly even split of Democratic (nine) and Republican (seven) co-sponsors. Kirk's office expects more senators will sign on this week.
The Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over economic sanctions, is slated to mark up the Kirk-Menendez bill on Thursday morning. The chamber's Democrats appeared headed for an intra-party showdown -- and with the Obama administration -- since McConnell supports a new sanctions bill as the "P5+1" talks with Tehran drag on.
But Menendez on Tuesday, in a twist, announced he doesn't want a floor vote on his own bill until at least March 24.
The Foreign Relations ranking member, quickly backed by other Banking Committee Democrats, said he is willing to give the White House two more months to make progress in the ongoing talks with Iran and other Western nations over the country's nuclear arms ambitions.
"A longer, more orderly process" would let lawmakers better understand the range of "implications" any new sanctions might spawn, Menendez said.
The Kirk-Menendez bill would "increases the current congressional oversight of the negotiations and requires the administration to formally submit any new nuclear agreement text or extension to Congress within five days."
The measure would green-light new sanctions and re-institute ones waived during the "P5+1" talks only if a June 30 deadline for a deal with Iran passes with no such pact.
The bill, known informally on Capitol Hill as "Kirk-Menendez," would install new sanctions on Iran, including ones to "close loopholes in existing petroleum sanctions, enhance sanctions on Iran's oil trade and financial transactions, and impose further sanctions on Iran's senior government officials, family members and other individuals," according to a summary of the legislation.
Kirk-Menendez also would slap new penalties on the republic's shipbuilding, engineering, automobile, construction and mining business sectors.
"The clock is ticking on a nuclear Iran, and the longer they have to build a bomb, the closer we are to witnessing a nuclear war in the Middle East," Kirk said in a statement. "Sanctions against Iran have been signed into law four times with bipartisan, veto-proof majorities in both Houses. The time for action is now."
Democrats on Tuesday joined Menendez's call for talks to proceed for two months before any floor votes on a new sanctions bill.
Schumer said a block of Democrats large enough to prevent an override of a potential Obama veto of sanctions legislation "will not vote for the bill on the floor" before March 24.
Still, the measure is expected to clear the Banking Committee on Thursday.
Schumer intends to vote in favor of passing it out committee "so a bill is ready to go" should the P5+1 talks show no progress by late March.